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Safety in surrenders
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 10/01/2007

Fugitive According to the United States Marshals Service (USMS), tens of thousands of fugitives are present in every major city across the U.S. These wanted suspects often live out of the mainstream by hiding their identity and committing further criminal acts to support themselves, but there is a safe alternative to this desperate lifestyle.

Fugitive Safe Surrender is a multi-agency initiative that allows people wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes to voluntarily turn themselves in at a neutral site. Run by USMS, it is also a community re-entry program that helps offenders stay out of the criminal justice system for good.

Six U.S. cities have hosted a Safe Surrender in just the last two years. The latest effort, held in Memphis, Tennessee from September 19 to 22, resulted in 1,570 people walking off the street to take care of their trouble with the law.

“Of those that turned themselves in, we arrested 1,337,” says Deputy U.S. Marshal Brian Monson of the USMS Mid-South Fugitive Task Force. “We had some that came for missed court dates with juvenile court or city court, some probation and parole violations, and then felony and misdemeanor crimes.”

Safe Surrender brings every step of the judicial process to a single site. In Memphis, this criminal justice microcosm descended upon the expansive New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.

“We had the whole judicial process: attorney, pretrial, probation, state parole, juvenile court, city court, two general session courts, and one criminal court,” says Monson, who coordinated the latest event. “If the attorneys are able to work a deal, we put them in front of the judges to dispose of the case right there. We cleared a total of 1,720 warrants.”

The Safe Surrender team got the word out with an all-around media blitz, radio and TV ads, and even posters on the sides of buses. As a result, the church was buzzing from start to finish.

“By the time we opened the doors at 9 a.m. we had in the area of 70 or 80 people ready to come in and surrender,” explains Memphis USMS spokesman Don Hankinson. “Depending on the kind of warrant, we routed the people different ways to either general session court, juvenile court, probation violation, and so on. Basically all agencies at the jail and judicial levels were involved, from judges on the bench to juvenile court officers, sheriffs, and public defenders pulling up records, sending faxes or emails trying to make settlements.”

The church was to stay open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but overwhelming demand kept it open until the wee hours of the morning.

“We were working way past 5 o’clock,” Hankinson says. “Eventually, if someone came after 5 we told them to come back the next day, but I know on the first day the last person walked out at about 2:30 in the morning.”

Running the operation took more than 100 agency workers plus close to 50 community and church volunteers. Even though the tactics behind Safe Surrender are completely non-violent, the effort can be easily compared to other investigative efforts such as arrest roundups and concentrated fugitive sweeps.

“A roundup of 50 to 100 people is considered very successful for that type of operation,” Monson says, “but the amount of law enforcement manpower and man hours we have to put out is probably double what we used for the Safe Surrender.”

Fugitive Safe Surrender’s goal is to reduce the risk to law enforcement officers who pursue fugitives, to the neighborhoods where suspects hide, and to the fugitives themselves.

“In a program like this, the safety factor is triple-fold,” Monson explains. “It’s safer for the law enforcement community who don’t have to go after fugitives into their houses or other dangerous settings. It’s safer for the community in which the fugitive is hiding. And it’s safer for the suspects that are wanted because they are coming in on their own terms and not being cornered.”

To help these men and women rejoin society, the Memphis program also created a community reentry station.

“We had a big lobby in the church with several volunteers from different job corps programs helping these people to get work and learn a trade,” Monson says. “We had one counselor set up to tell guys how to get their driver’s license back. Several truck drivers came in who had their commercial driver’s license for whatever reason suspended. We’d tell them how to get their license back so they could start working again.”

Even though the program targets people suspected of non-violent crimes, sometimes the chance for a fugitive on the run for a violent crime to safely surrender is too good to turn down.

“A big part of the program is to get people to come in, take care of their warrants, and go home,” Monson adds, “but there are people who turn themselves in knowing they won’t be going back home. The majority of people we took into custody had warrants in other states. They’re tired of running and wanted a safe place to turn themselves in. In every city that’s done a Safe Surrender, there have been two or three people turning themselves in for a major crime like homicide.”

In the months and years ahead, the USMS plan to conduct these surrenders in 16 more cities across the country.

“The big goal of this is giving people that second chance, to put them back on their feet so we don’t see them through the criminal justice system again and again,” Monson adds. “Safe Surrenders totally remove the burden from criminal justice system and give offenders something they can use, so they don’t go back to their old ways.”

The next Fugitive Safe Surrender will be in Washington, DC from November 1 to 3.

Related Resources:

More on the upcoming DC Safe Surrender

Get answers to Safe Surrender FAQs

See pictures from past Safe Surrenders


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